Sunday, April 28, 2013

Capitals - Rangers: The Unfamiliarity of Familiar Foes

Familiarity breeds contempt.

So was the moral of the story in Aesop’s fable of The Fox and the Lion. And just as in that fable, so the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers might have developed a sense of contempt for one another having played one another in three playoff series over the last four years.  As we prepare to watch these familiar foes take the ice against each other one more time, it might be instructive (or, failing that, entertaining) to look at the history of the three series.

If you are interested in looking at the contests on a game-by-game basis, here are our post-game reviews of each:

2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:

2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals

These teams have played 19 times against one another in three playoff series over the past four season.  The Caps hold a 3-2 edge in series won and an 11-8 edge in wins and losses.  Here are some other facts and thoughts on the history of this long, strange playoff relationship…

-- In 19 games the Caps have outscored the Rangers, 45-34.

-- Of the Rangers eight wins, seven were by one goal, two of them in overtime.  The only time the Rangers won by more than one goal was in Game 1 of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinals, a 3-1 win.

-- The Caps have an 18.8 percent power play conversion rate over the 19 games – 18.2 percent in 2009, 18.8 percent in 2011, and 20.0 percent in 2012.  They are 7-3 in games in which they recorded at least one power play goal.

-- Conversely, the Caps have an 88.2 percent penalty killing rate – 87.1 percent in 2009, 95.0 percent in 2011, and 84.0 percent in 2012.  They are 2-4 in games in which they allowed at least one power play goal.

-- Although the Caps enjoy a 29.0 – 27.6 advantage in shots per game over the 19 games, the tide swung over the course of the three series.  In 2009 the Caps had a 30.9 – 23.7 shot advantage per game.  In 2011 it was 31.2 – 29.6.  But last spring, it was 30.1 – 25.6 for the Rangers.

-- Overall, the Caps have outscored the Rangers in each period: 13-7 in the first period of games, 16-12 in the second period, and 14-13 in the third period.  Each team has two overtime goals in the series.

-- Seven times in the 19 games the Caps took a lead into the first intermission.  They won all seven games.  Four times the Rangers took a lead into the first intermission.  They won all four games.  The teams split eight games in which they were tied after 20 minutes.

-- The Caps are also 7-for-7 in games in which they led after two periods.  The Rangers are 4-for-5 in such games, losing to the Caps 4-3 in Game 4 of the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals when the Caps came back from being down 3-0 after 40 minutes to win, 4-3, in double overtime.  The Caps are 3-4 when the clubs were even after two periods.

-- Only six Capital skaters have appeared in all three series against the Rangers over the past four seasons: Nicklas Backstrom, John Erskine, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin, and Jeff Schultz.  Only four – Backstrom, Green, Laich, and Ovechkin – have appeared in all 19 games.

-- As a group, the gang of six has 15 of the 45 goals scored by the Caps in the series:

  • Nicklas Backstrom: 19 games, 1-11-12, plus-4, 8 PIMs
  • John Erskine: 13 games, 0-1-1, plus-5, 14 PIMs
  • Mike Green: 19 games, 3-9-12, plus-3, 20 PIMs
  • Brooks Laich: 19 games, 2-8-10, plus-1, 8 PIMs
  • Alex Ovechkin: 19 games, 9-8-17, plus-2, 12 PIMs
  • Jeff Schultz: 12 games, 0-0-0, plus-1, 0 PIMs

-- For the Rangers, only two skaters have participated in all three series: Dan Girardi (19 games, 0-3-3, minus-2, 6 PIMs) and Marc Staal (19 games, 2-3-5, minus-3, 8 PIMs).  Ryan Callahan might have made three, but he suffered a fractured leg just before the start of the 2011 playoffs and did not dress for any post-season games. 

-- In three playoff series covering 19 games, the Caps have used four goaltenders:

  • 2009 – Jose Theodore: 0-1, 4.08, .810
  • 2009 – Semyon Varlamov: 4-2, 1.17, .952, 2 shutouts
  • 2011 – Michal Neuvirth: 4-1, 1.37, .946, 1 shutout
  • 2012 – Braden Holtby: 3-4, 1.90, .929

-- On the other side, Henrik Lundqvist has been the goalie of record in all 19 decisions in the three playoff series: 8-11, 2.26, .917, 1 shutout.

On the surface we have two teams that know one another.  But in fact there has been a lot of turnover on these rosters.  The teams will be familiar with one another from last spring’s tightly fought series (13 skaters that dressed for the Rangers saw action last spring; 15 skaters for the Caps), but there isn’t much of a shared playoff history beyond that.  That will make the series familiar enough to fans by the colors of the jerseys, but whether it resembles any of the previous three series is a far more uncertain matter.

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